How to Choose the Right Paralegal Studies Training Program Near Atmore Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Atmore AL and begin your journey that will result in a rewarding profession in legal services. Nevertheless, it's essential that you find the best school so that you will receive the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you probably know, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more educational options are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with so many options to choose from, where does one begin? Some prospective students begin by trying to find schools within traveling distance of their Atmore residences. Of those options, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when choosing a college, they are not the only qualifiers you should consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program should be considered as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you should ask potential paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare each one prior to making your decision. But first, let's take a look at what a paralegal does and the instructional choices that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Legal Assistants and Paralegals
Legal assistants and paralegals essentially both hold the same job positions and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the equivalent of either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Atmore AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as maintaining client files, legal research, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their particular job functions are relevant to the type of legal firm where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice may assist with trial logistics or transferring files to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed hourly as are the attorney's. And just like lawyers, they must perform with a high degree of professionalism and follow a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their regular tasks can involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant laws and cases
- Preparing correspondence and legal papers
- Submitting legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Helping attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and additional records
With all of their duties, the job of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally allowed to do is provide legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to administrative or clerical duties more suited to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals really are the main support systems for lawyers. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, lawyers have the ability to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals possibly having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the academic prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to launch your career as a paralegal in Atmore AL is by earning a certificate, which can require just six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be obtained at numerous community colleges in two years. For an even more extensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are an option also. When you have obtained either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and earn a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help increase your career opportunities, but help establish you as a professional also. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies in the profession are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken 2 crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a legal assistant or a paralegal.
Online Paralegal and Legal Assistant Programs
Legal assistant and paralegal online programs have become more popular and may be an excellent alternative for students searching for convenient access to classes as well as flexible scheduling. Online schools can be particularly appealing to Atmore AL students who continue to work while earning a certificate or degree. As an added benefit, online classes can in some cases be less expensive than more traditional options. Even secondary expenses for such things as commuting or study materials can be minimized or eliminated. One caveat, not all online programs are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you receive is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the school and program you are thinking about are accredited by a respected organization, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are disciplined enough to study in a less structured and conventional environment, then earning your certificate or degree online could be the right option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Certificate or Degree Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training choices are offered, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at junior and community colleges in the Atmore AL area, as well as trade and vocational schools, you need to find out what questions to ask so that you can compare each one. This is especially true when you add all of the online paralegal degree and certificate programs as well. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by searching for schools within driving distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have previously discussed, there are other significant factors to think about also, for instance accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at some of the questions you should be asking the programs you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your final choice.
Is the Paralegal School Accredited? The paralegal school and program that you choose need to be accredited by a highly regarded accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it might also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the education you will receive will be of the highest standard, but it will establish with future employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Atmore AL law firms will only hire entry level legal assistants that are graduates of an accredited school. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are typically obtainable only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Find out what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are considering. This is of particular importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will need to make a decision based on the quality of your training exclusively. Confirming that the school you select is accredited is a good first step. Reviewing school rating services, including those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also contact a few Atmore AL law firms that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask what schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not the most highly ranked, its paralegal program could still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the School Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while still in school. They can also present a pathway for students to begin developing contacts within the Atmore AL legal community. Find out if the paralegal programs you are evaluating offer internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will probably want to hit the ground running after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be difficult without assistance. Find out if the paralegal programs you are considering have job placement programs and what their success rates are. Rapid and high placement rates are an excellent indication that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also corroborates that their students are highly regarded and in demand.
Where is the Campus Located? Considering that laws vary from one state to another, it may be advantageous to enroll in a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be important to develop relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly through an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that reside outside of their districts. So you might want to initially look at those colleges that are within the Atmore AL area.
What is the Complete Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in price depending on the credential received and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only expenditure for your education. Don't forget to add the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial aid might be accessible to help minimize some of the cost, so don't forget to talk to the school's financial aid department to find out what is offered in Atmore AL. Naturally if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these added expenses, for instance for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Fit your Schedule? A number of legal students keep working while receiving their training and need flexibility to schedule classes. If you can solely attend night or weekend classes near Atmore AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, make certain that the program you choose offers that option. Last, find out what the procedure is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Atmore Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Enrolling in the best paralegal studies certificate program is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have covered in this article, you have the choice of attending classes on-campus or you can participate online in the comfort and privacy of your Atmore home. Paralegal education programs are made available in various formats and lengths. Various types of private and public institutions make available paralegal education, including community and junior colleges, four year colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your choice of a paralegal school will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick carefully. Afford yourself the best possible opportunity to succeed in this fascinating profession. But no matter how you elect to obtain your education and earn your certificate or degree, by asking the questions that we have furnished you will be able to evaluate each program and make your ultimate decision. And with the appropriate training you can realize your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Atmore Alabama.